Character Matters

The Entire Cast of "Disney's Jungle Book Kids"

The Entire Cast of “Disney’s Jungle Book Kids”

Last night, the daughter I call Thing 2 was in “The Jungle Book: Kids” at school.

She wasn’t the main character Mowgli, nor one of the sidekicks Baloo or Bagheera.

She wasn’t even a member of the Elephant Troupe or the Jungle Chorus.

She was props – specifically the person opening and closing the stage curtains.

When she began this year at school, her father and I told her she had to take part in one of three things this year: the Oratorical competition, the musical or the Talent Show. When she came home from the musical try-outs and told me she was on the props team, I wanted to say, “Props don’t count!”

The whole purpose of getting her to be in some sort of presentation was to draw her a little out of her shell. By nature, Thing 2 is social, but compared to me, she’s very shy. Her sister, Thing 1 is even more shy than that. I’ve always been an extrovert and have a hard time understanding non-people people.

I can be the Louisa Glasson and my children, the Dr. Martin Ellingham from the popular British show, “Doc Martin.” My children don’t have the best people skills and even though I’ve tried to help them, they are not interested in being polite and engaging in small talk.

The musical is for 4th and 5th graders. Last year, Thing 2 refused to have anything to do with it. The fact that she was on the props team was a positive baby step. But it was hard for me as a parent to be there. I mean, what do I take a picture of? The curtains as they’re opening?

I was so star struck at her age. I dreamed of moving to Los Angeles or New York to be an actress, dancer or singer. I was the only kid at my high school that had a subscription to “Playbill” magazine, which was filled with Broadway news and gossip. I could tell you everything about “A Chorus Line”, “Cats” and “42nd Street.” For fun, I attended musicals and plays at the Shreveport Little Theatre and the Marjorie Lyons Playhouse.

Here I was in a crowded cafeteria/auditorium among parents and relatives who had their cameras out and bouquets of flowers for their “little stars.” I felt so out-of-place. Why was I here anyway? I could leave and she wouldn’t even know if I was in attendance. But, I stayed.

After the show was over, she was beaming. She had fun and I realized this was a huge accomplishment for her. When we were leaving, we passed by the pictures in the hallway of the cast and crew. As a fundraiser, the PTA sold stars, cut out of yellow construction paper, for a quarter each. People would buy these stars, write a quick note of congratulations and tape them next to the person’s picture. I had purchased one for Thing 2 and thankfully a neighbor who is in the 1st grade also purchased one for her. Thing 2 was so excited that she had two stars. Then she said, “Look at ___’s picture. She doesn’t have any stars and she even had a singing role.” Thing 2 was clearly distressed by this so we turned around and she bought a star, wrote a note and placed it on the girl’s picture.

I realized something deeper was at place here. My daughter might never be what I aspire her to be. (I never became what my mom wanted me to be). But, she showed compassion towards someone else. That was character.

She may never be the visible star of a musical, but in the background she showed character. That’s the better thing.


Reframing the Poison Hour

poisonhour
What does the poison hour mean to you?

The first time I heard this phrase, “the poison hour,” I was in a marriage seminar led by Reverend Don Harp.  He told all of us newly married couples that spouses need about 30 – 60 minutes at home to unwind before we start asking about their day at work.  He called this critical time “the poison hour.”

I found this was so true.  In our early marriage, I got home from my job about an hour before my husband did. I already had time to unwind from my day. The minute he walked in, I so wanted to connect with him. The most logical way to connect would be to ask about his day, etc. Remembering the warning about the poison hour, I gave my husband space – time to change clothes, watch the news and relax. Later, we’d talk about things and connect.

I remember at that marriage seminar someone asking, “What happens when I need my husband to help me with the kids? I can’t give him 30 minutes to unwind.”

I don’t remember his exact words, but the minister basically told us that all the rules change when children come along.

Five years later, we had kids.

The poison hour had a completely different meaning for me. It was the time from about 4-5 pm – after nap time, but before dinner – when I had the most challenges as a parent.  The kids were fussy and I had no backup as my spouse wasn’t home yet.

Over time, I adjusted and incorporated a couple of coping mechanisms. Often, I would take my children to a nearby playground and push them in the toddler swings. Also, I joined a play group in my neighborhood that met from 4 – 5:30 once a week.  These were lifesavers for me.

As my children are getting older, the poison hour is changing yet again. It is now the time my pre-teen children get home from school.

In the early elementary school days, they were glad to see me after a long day. I was the “good mommy” that asked all about their day, how much homework they had and what was served at lunch. Now I get surly responses like, “I already told you. It was fine.”

I’m coming up with new coping techniques. Although it goes against my human nature, I’m finding that things go much better if I greet her with a simple “Hi there.”

Period.

No questions.

Nothing else.

No, “How was your day?”

As hard as this is for me, I have to remember when I was in middle school (or junior high as they called it back then)  and my mom would ask me questions all the time. I didn’t feel like talking. I had been busy at school or piano lessons or ballet. Of course it went fine. Wouldn’t I tell her if it didn’t? Her questions just bugged me.

When had I turned into my mom?

But this not asking questions of my children right after school is so hard for me. Why? Because I’m so used to when they were little and were happy to see me when I picked them up from preschool.  That was the routine. “How was your day!” “What did you learn?” “Who did you play with?” It was the time when mom could fix everything for them.

But I can’t fix everything for them and now they know it.

I have to remember that they don’t have the luxury of time by themselves until the get home. Even my husband has a little time to unwind in the car on the drive home. Yes, he’s navigating through traffic, but he can choose to listen to the radio, change the station, listen to CD’s or turn it off completely.

So, now I’m learning to let my children “be” for a few minutes – let them have quiet time, let them unwind before starting homework. One daughter comes home and immediately heads for the swing outside. She’ll spend at least 20 minutes out there and I realize this is her poison hour time.